There are many reasons couples come to therapy:
- She had an affair.
- He doesn’t communicate.
- We argue and can’t work it out.
- We fight about money.
- He doesn’t help around the house.
- His work is more important than I am.
- She spends too much time with her family.
- We never have sex.
- I’m no longer in love with him.
Whichever reason couples initially present, there is one common denominator we often find: People trace the beginning of their marital problems back to the time they had kids.
Having children is one of the most, if not the most, dramatic change in marriage that most couples ever experience. Before kids arrive, there is no way to understand or anticipate the enormous degree of change that will take place – physically, emotionally, financially or sexually.
The demand for time and attention required by an infant is overwhelming, on top of the sleep deprivation that most parents experience. The physical and hormonal changes to a woman’s body lead to changes in mood. Some have postpartum depression. Relationships may be strained.
A couple’s “alone time,” to attend to their marriage, to have privacy, to be intimate and romantic, is suddenly gone. For at least the first six months, the equilibrium of the household and schedule is tentative. Sometimes husbands feel neglected. Wives may not want to be touched.
What happens to sex when kids come along? It evaporates. Pregnancy interrupts sex. During the first trimester women may feel tired and/or nauseated. And during the last few months, sex may become uncomfortable. After delivery, couples have to wait at least six weeks to allow a woman’s body to heal from childbirth before resuming sex.
After this long interruption in couples’ erotic lives, most resume having sex. Some create time for emotional and physical intimacy; yet some don’t, especially if they lack help from family to provide childcare and babysitting. It’s vital to carve out time and space for your marriage. Eventually a “new normal” is established.
So what do couples do next? They start all over on baby number two. And the cycle continues.
It’s easy to see how and why marriages drastically change after couples have children. Some partners maintain their connection and deepen their relationship with each other. Others allow their partnership to remain on the back burner, most often unconsciously, and relationships slowly drift apart. Years later they show up in our office with their presenting issue. When we trace back the history to see when intimacy changed, we often find it’s right after children came along.
So what can a couple do to avoid this?
- Be mindful of your connection, no matter what stage you are at. Check in with your partner and ask how they are feeling about your relationship. Communicate about what you need more of.
- Continue dating. Put your marriage first. It’s true that “the best gift you can give your kids are two parents who stay in love.”
- Keep having sex. Make the time and energy. No excuses. Go away for an overnight or a weekend to refresh your intimate relationship.
Having children is one of the most wonderful gifts in the world. We wouldn’t trade our two for anything. And children have a tremendous impact on marriages. Maintaining your emotional and erotic relationship is key to your relationship lasting a lifetime.
If you are in a relationship that hurts and feel disconnected, have difficulties communicating, and/or are experiencing a crisis, we can help. Call us at 410-363-2825 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.